Obama Tells Md. Voters, 'We Need Something New'

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) spent yesterday evening in Prince George's County, speaking to one of the nation's most affluent African American communities in an attempt to convince voters that he has a real chance of becoming the nation's first black president.

The ticketed rally, his first presidential campaign appearance in Maryland, drew a spirited and racially diverse crowd of thousands to Prince George's Community College in Largo. A marching band performed as supporters of all ages waved signs: "Barack Rocks," "Maryland {heart} Barack."

Obama's themes included health care, energy independence and ending the war in Iraq.

"You've got some candidates who have been touting their ability to work the system as the reason they should be elected president," Obama told the enthusiastic audience. "But they don't seem to understand the system hasn't been working for us. . . . We need something new."

Even Obama loyalists, however, acknowledge widespread support in the county for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), based on years of affection for her and her husband. Some at the rally said they continue to weigh the relative merits of Obama and Clinton.

Among those at the event already persuaded to support Obama was Bruce Chatman of Fort Washington, a developer who said he has not seen so much enthusiasm for a candidate since John F. Kennedy. He said he would be proud if Obama became the first black president, but he added: "He has to have a lot more to offer to me than just being black. Fortunately, he does."

But others said they were still making up their minds. Lodie Sims, 76, and Jackie Whitehead, 66, both of Lanham said they were deciding between Obama and Clinton.

Sims said her concerns include the economy, health care and "are they going to do something abut the war, bringing the men home?"

On Obama's visit to Prince George's, Sims said: "We need this. We've got a lot of well-educated people in this county who are voters." She said she would be excited to see either the first black or first female president. But she added, "I can't support him just because he's black or her just because she's a woman."

Said Whitehead: "But we're long overdue for one or the other."

Most rally attendees paid $25 for the chance to see Obama. Tickets to a cocktail party for big donors, held after the rally at the college's Marlboro Art Gallery, cost $1,000.

Orlan Johnson, a lawyer in Prince George's who serves on Obama's national finance committee, said he has been excited by Obama's ability to appeal to Democrats from all demographics and by his progressive message, combined with a r¿sum¿ that he said gives Obama a legitimate shot at the presidency.

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